By Jano Tantongco
There’s a gang problem in Huntington Station.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said in an interview last Thursday that, although violent crime in the area has been down over the past month, “there is gang activity.”
“And, it’s not just one gang,” he added. “There’s more than one gang operating in that area.”
When asked, Sini said he could not specify which gangs are active.
The activity has drawn added concern from station residents.
Community conversation meetings have recently been held at the Huntington Opportunity Resource Center (HORC) in Huntington Station. At the most recent meeting on Sept. 28, members of the community expressed their concern about a perceived uptick in violence, including the two recent, separate homicides of 18-year-old Antoine Butts-Miller in Huntington Station, and 18-year-old Estiven Abrego Gomez in Greenlawn.
Dee Thompson, a community activist who is on the HORC advisory board, said there is also concern that gangs are enlisting youths in the area.
“We don’t want our children afraid to go to school because of being recruited,” she said last week. “It’s pretty clear, they have park police now that they hired... so there must be a reason they did that.”
Thompson referenced the Town of Huntington’s new park rangers, which town officials said were hired to help combat violence. The rangers are armed and currently patrol town-owned properties, such as parks.
Longtime community activist and Huntington Station resident Jim McGoldrick sees the rangers filling a void that he said should be filled by the Suffolk County Police Department.
McGoldrick, who said he supports Sini, added, “We need more police… Bottom line: we need what we’re paying for -- we’re not getting what we’re paying for.”
He continued, “It’s going to be Brentwood in two or three years,” if changes aren’t made.
That change may already be happening.
“We’ve seen movement from Brentwood to Huntington Station, with the gangs,” Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone said in an interview Wednesday. He added that gang activity has made residents “suspicious and fearful.”
Petrone said the town government is doing its part with its own public safety initiatives, such as the new park rangers.
“It’s really the county now that is going to have to reanalyze how they deploy some of their resources,” he added. Petrone said the town contributes around 25 percent of the SCPD’s budget.
Petrone said he is scheduled to, once again, sit down with Sini to discuss how to saturate Huntington Station with police presence and augment community policing methods to help deter crime before it happens.
Sini, who has attended two of the community meetings at HORC, said police are combating the gang problem by utilizing the department’s criminal intelligence section to track known gang members in the area; continuing to utilize officers who specialize in policing gangs; deploying Firearm Suppression Team officers; and partnering with federal law enforcement agencies.
He also highlighted the use of “custom notifications,” which he said involves the department sending officers to meet with individuals who have committed crimes in the past, and/or who are believed to be at-risk for committing a crime in the future, in hopes of intervening before a crime, or an additional crime, is committed.
“It’s a way to basically let them know, ‘You’re not anonymous,’ ” Sini said. “There are going to be consequences, criminal or otherwise; you can get yourself killed.”
The police department has also been continuing to work with organizations, like HORC, to help connect children to resources that are intended to help prevent them from being recruited by gangs.
“Gang members will prey on the vulnerable,” Sini said. “They’re not going to target the child who’s involved in extracurricular activities and who goes to school on a regular basis. That person has a support structure in their lives where they are very likely to be able to reject [gang solicitations] and seek help.”
In hopes of working with the school community, Thompson has invited local school districts to attend as well. The next community conversation meeting at the resource center will take place on Oct. 26, 6 p.m., at HORC (1264 New York Ave., Huntington Station).